Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...

This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.

Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.

Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.

I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.

In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.

I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.

I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281.

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)


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AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Sunday, May 25, 2014

AZ PRISON ALERT! Tell Brewer to order DOC to prevent prison rape/implement PREA!

UPDATE: JUNE 13, 2014




 "Justice for Victims of Prison Violence"
Crime Victims' Rights Week (APRIL 2013) 

Governor Brewer has apparently informed the federal government that Arizona has no intentions of protecting its prisoners from rape by abiding by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which is now supposed to be going into effect across the country. Given the current conditions in Arizona's state prisons, this should be no surprise. This is just one more piece of evidence that AZ Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan has no regard whatsoever for the health, safety, or welfare of his prisoners: his actions consistently speaks louder than his words. And we can't let it go this way without a fight. The Department of Corrections (DOC) sucks up over 10% of the state budget, but NO ONE wants to hold them accountable for how that money is being spent, for some reason.

Rejecting the PREA standards means the state actually loses federal funding for the prison system, so there must be some serious problems preventing the DOC from thinking they could comply. As folks may recall, the NAACP sent the AZ DOC Director, Charles Ryan, a letter last fall expressing concern for the safety of gay and transgender prisoners in his custody, as we had received numerous complaints that they were being targeted with violence and the DOC was routinely, repeatedly, refusing to place those who needed it into protective custody (PC), leaving them to be brutalized in general population (GP) or giving them disciplinary tickets and punishment for refusing to house in GP. Ryan responded with his assurances that he cares about each and every one of his prisoners, of course, and wouldn't dream of letting them get hurt, if he can help it.

I've also received reports of DOC staff responding to rape victims with abusive language, harsh housing assignments, loss of privileges, accusations of lying, and hate speech and violence in response to a gay prisoner who was raped. Most often the victim is put in the hole during a brief "investigation" ("Hey, did you rape Joe? He says you did. NO? Oh, sorry to bother you then...."). Once the DOC investigates and fails to substantiate anything, the victim is then moved to another GP yard to be further traumatized and violated, while the accused (often a prisoner in a position of power on the yards) is left in place to brutalize others - this teaches rape victims at the AZ DOC not to speak up at all, which means there are likely far more prison rapes in our state than are reported. 

The AZ DOC is so incapable of adequately investigating rapes that occur in their facilities, in fact, that in 2013, out of more than 80 allegations of inmate-on-inmate "non-consensual sexual acts" (they wont even call it rape) or "abusive sexual contact" they weren't able to substantiate a single one - not a single rapist in their custody was found to have done a thing as of the time their 2013 PREA report was due. I find that astonishing - I'd fire the whole DOC Criminal Investigations Unit over that. Maybe that's why they don't want to comply with federal standards protecting prisoners from rape - Director Ryan clearly must not think there really is such a thing as rape in his prisons.

I hope all you families out there bombard the Governor's office this week with complaints about her decision to allow the DOC to refuse to comply with PREA guidelines, and demand that she take responsibility for investigating the escalating violence against gay and trans prisoners, the brown on black race war, the flourishing heroin trade, the control of most general population yards by gangs, and the horrendous disaster that the privatization of health care at the DOC has been. Please cc your correspondence to the Governor's office to the local media, too. Contact info is below.

One thing which makes it easier for Arizona to get away with rejecting PREA standards, I'm sure, is the fact that the state's "Victims Bill of Rights", as enshrined in the AZ Constitution, deprives one class of people of the same rights everyone else in this state gets when they become crime victims: individuals "in custody for an offense". Even Walmart has more legal standing in court as a crime victim than actual human beings in state custody have. That means that if your child is murdered in custody - even by agents of the state - you also have no "victims rights" guaranteed to you as a survivor (no wonder the DOC leaves so many homicides unsolved...).

The Victims' Bill of Rights for the AZ Constitution was engineered by the state' prosecutors who campaigned hard with crime victims groups to have voters approve the constitutional amendment in 1990. The primary author of the bill, ASU law professor Steve Twist, also thinks everything is fine in the most poorly run state prison system in the country, and clearly has no compassion for crime victims in custody - not even those prisoners still considered innocent until proven guilty. 

Thanks to a big push among legislators from Bill Montgomery, Steve Twist's non-profit organization serving crime victims will get a huge boost in funding in coming years. I just don't know how an organization which self-identifies as the "ARIZONA VOICE FOR CRIME VICTIMS" can refuse to acknowledge as a crime victim a woman whose life was destroyed when her son was murdered in prison, or a mentally impaired juvenile in detention being sexually abused by an adult predator in uniform. 

It seems to me that if he really cared about ending the violence and evil humans perpetrate on eachother in this world, Steve Twist would be urging Governor Brewer to reconsider her position on prison rape and implementing the PREA standards across the AZ DOC. The failure to implement PREA standards will place kids in the juvenile and adult criminal justice system at greater risk of sexual abuse, too - and Steve Twist is on Brewer's Children's Protective Services Task force, so it's not like he wouldn't have her ear on this issue. Please especially write to him if you are a survivor of prison violence. He needs to hear from you, now, not me.

P.O. Box 12722
Scottsdale, Arizona 85267
(480) 600-2661

If you folks who care about prisoners don't contact the Governor and media on this, your loved ones will be at even greater risk in custody in this state than they are already, so please, everyone, call or write both the Governor and Gannett News and protest her decisoon on PREA.

Here is the contact info you need:

The Honorable Janice K. Brewer
Arizona Governor
Executive Tower
1700 West Washington Street
Phoenix, AZ 85007
(602) 542-4331

Producers and Editors
AZ Republic/ KPNX CH 12 News
200 E. Van Buren
Phoenix, AZ 850o4
(602) 444-8000


Some States Opting out of Federal Prison Rape Law

May 24, 2014 (AP)
By REBECCA BOONE Associated Press

Several states are refusing to comply with a federal law designed to reduce sexual assaults in prison, with governors criticizing the decade-old law as counterproductive and too expensive to implement.

The governors of Idaho, Texas, Indiana, Utah and Arizona have informed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that they won't try to meet the standards required under the Prison Rape Elimination Act. Governors were required to certify by May 15 that their states either met the standards designed to curb widespread sexual abuse behind bars, or to promise that they were actively working toward that goal.

"Idaho supports the spirit and intention of PREA and the National PREA Standards, but a law with good intent has evolved into a law with too much red tape," Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter wrote in a letter to Holder sent five days after the deadline. It would cost the state millions of dollars to meet some of the standards, Otter said, and he believed the cost would have little ultimate benefit. Besides, the governor said, the state has taken substantial steps to reduce sexual victimization in correctional facilities.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry told Holder in April that his state wouldn't comply because the rules were too costly and violated states' rights. Perry's letter also encouraged other states to reject the federal law, and said that instead, his state would continue the programs it already has to reduce prison rapes. Perry's spokesman Rich Parsons said Friday that Perry sent a subsequent letter last week to Holder, contending that some PREA standards are in conflict with Texas state laws.

Brenda Smith, a former commissioner on the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission which helped create the PREA standards, said the decision by some states to opt out is shameful.

"These are not some high falutin', unreachable standards. These are things that are constitutional, based on best practices that have been determined in the field and in the courts," Smith said. "As a state you can move over to the sidelines, but people in custody don't get to move over to the sidelines. Providing them safety from sexual abuse is the minimum we can do."

At least 10 more states — Alaska, New York, Ohio, California, Washington, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Colorado, Mississippi and Illinois — have said that they can't meet all the requirements yet, but are actively working toward that goal. New Mexico says it's fully compliant with the law.

Leaders of Just Detention International, an organization that works to end sexual abuse in detention facilities, said they were encouraged that most states are working toward PREA compliance.

"We want actual certifications to be meaningful, so states should certify only when they know that they are in full compliance," said the organization's executive director Lovisa Stannow in a prepared statement. "Until then, the Department of Justice must strictly monitor states to ensure that they are using their federal funds appropriately. No state should be meeting its five percent financial commitment by diverting funds away from essential inmate services like rape crisis counseling - doing so would run counter to the intent of PREA."

The Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed unanimously by Congress in 2003. The next several years were spent developing PREA standards, and in 2012 those rules went into effect. The Department of Justice is expected to publish a list of PREA-compliant states by September.

The major provisions of PREA are designed to change the culture of prisons to one that has zero tolerance for sexual victimization; to change prison facilities so that there are fewer opportunities for rape to occur; and to change reporting policies so that inmates have a safe way to report a crime and a safe place to go if they are sexually victimized.

The law's only enforcement mechanism is a partial loss of grant funding. States that don't comply with PREA can lose up to 5 percent of the federal grant money they receive for corrections. States can keep the money if they promise to use it to come into compliance with the law.

The potential human impact is huge: The Department of Justice says that at least 216,000 of U.S. prisoners were raped or sexually abused behind bars in 2011, and cautions that the number is likely low, because prison rapes are seldom reported. The ACLU estimates that about 2 million people have been raped or sexually abused behind bars since PREA was enacted by Congress.